The Dark Sides of Empathy
Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN 10: 150172164X
ISBN 13: 978-1501721649
Many consider empathy to be the basis of moral action. However, the ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty. In The Dark Sides of Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt contends that people often commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of over-identification and a desire to increase empathy. Even well-meaning compassion can have many unintended consequences, such as intensifying conflicts or exploiting others.
Empathy plays a central part in a variety of highly problematic behaviors. From mere callousness to terrorism, exploitation to sadism, and emotional vampirism to stalking, empathy all too often motivates and promotes malicious acts. After tracing the development of empathy as an idea in German philosophy, Breithaupt looks at a wide-ranging series of case studies―from Stockholm syndrome to Angela Merkel's refugee policy and from novels of the romantic era to helicopter parents and murderous cheerleader moms―to uncover how narcissism, sadism, and dangerous celebrity obsessions alike find their roots in the quality that, arguably, most makes us human.
"Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt shows through an abundant collection of examples, can lead to immoral acts as well as moral ones."(Neue Zürcher Zeitung)
"The deeper you go into this book, the more dominant the dark sides of empathy seem―and the more urgent it is to face them."(Bavarian Public Radio)
"A book well worth reading. It invites you to reflect on an important human, social, and political topic."(socialnet.)
"Fritz Breithaupt's new book is a brilliant, iconoclastic inquiry into the 'terrible things we do because of our ability to empathize with others.' It ranges widely in its case studies―from Angela Merkel's refugee politics, and the aesthetics of empathy, to helicopter parenting―while remaining pointedly reader-friendly, compelling, witty, and personable. The Dark Sides of Empathy is a must-read for anyone who writes about empathy, prizes it, or thinks that we don't have enough of it to go around."(Lisa Zunshine, University of Kentucky, author of Getting Inside Your Head)
"By focusing on the dangers arising from our capacity for empathy, Fritz Breithaupt illuminates its dark side, and demonstrates why empathy doesn't necessarily lead to altruism or moral behavior. An important book to temper the accepted and a bit naïve view that empathy is the solution to our social ailments."(Jean Decety, University of Chicago)
"Fritz Breithaupt's thorough examination of the risks of empathy―self-loss, polarization, and bystander effects―warns that we should not expect it to lead inevitably to altruism. Breithaupt shows that empathy can be a source of emotional vampirism or sadistic pleasure. His work encourages circumvention of barriers to empathy and channeling it into helping others."(Suzanne Keen, Hamilton College, author of Empathy and the Novel)
About the Author
Fritz Breithaupt is Provost Professor at Indiana University Bloomington. He founded and directs the Experimental Humanities Laboratory at IU.